Can it be? After a mere 40 weeks, we’re about to complete the first of our sixty-seven volumes of the Great Books (I’m omitting the three volumes from the two series that are largely indices). It’s fitting that we finish Homer’s works before any other volume; I expect almost every other author will be referring back to him in some way.
Here are the readings for the upcoming week:
- The Iliad of Homer, Books XXII-XXIV (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 263-306)
- “Address at Cooper Institute” by Abraham Lincoln (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 737-746)
- Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, Ch. X-XV (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 55-65)
- Federalist #62-63 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 188-195; Antifederalist responses are here)
- “The Chemical History of a Candle” by Michael Faraday, Lectures V-VI (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 414-439)
- The Way Things Are (or On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius, Book III (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 30-43)
We’re finishing not only the Iliad, but also Faraday’s lectures on the candle this week. At that point, we’ll have completed more than half of the Gateway to the Great Books series’s volume on the natural sciences.
Here are some observations on last week’s readings:
- The Iliad of Homer, Books XIX-XXI: I can’t help but chuckle at the picture of Apollo leading Achilles on a merry chase in the guise of Hector. Sucker! I think we’re supposed to get the impression that Achilles has gone beyond the pale when he kills an unarmed man and gloats. I don’t see how the whole god-as-metaphor notion works when Apollo spirits Aeneas away from Achilles against his well. Aeneas pretty obviously was trying to fight Achilles at that point, but the gods intervene to save him.
- On War by Karl von Clausewitz, Chapter I: I’ve never made it around to von Clausewitz before now, and I half wish the whole treatise was part of the GB series. This is the first time I’ve ever seen war discussed in a theoretical fashion (I never took a military history course in college). You can see the 19th-century assumptions, such as those about the nature of the State, pretty clearly here, but I think that his comments about the political nature of war are correct, at least in the modern context.
- Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, Chapters VII-IX: I don’t know about you, but I don’t find Locke’s arguments in this section very satisfying. If I’m reading him correctly, he’s saying that no minor is subject to a commonwealth. And the distinction between someone who has given tacit consent to the polity as opposed to a sojourner seems really thin. His argument about the king being primarily a war leader was pretty well supported, though.
- Federalist #59-61: I can see both sides of the issue being argued in these three papers, but I think I’d still have to tip the balance toward the states. The events during Reconstruction showed that here as elsewhere the central government can run roughshod over states and localities with this sort of authority.
- “The Chemical History of a Candle” Michael Faraday, Lectures III-IV: Part of me is saying, “OK, it’s a chemical reaction . . . I get it.” Another part of me is very appreciative of the way in which Faraday leads his listeners through the investigation step by step like a detective.
- The Way Things Are (or On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius, Book II: The beginning and ending of this book were thought-provoking. The notion of the world’s creation by randomness and its gradual decay sound very modern (again), as do the passages about atoms and molecules. I wonder how many moderns recognize the ancient provenance of their assumptions.
Having finished last week’s readings by Saturday evening and now contemplating the completion of the Iliad, I’ve got plenty to motivate me this week. I hope you find some time to read, too.